Suggestions for Further Study and Bibliography

The Passion of Jesus Christ

The passion of Jesus has held the attention of the Christians throughout the ages. The Gospels themselves testify to this--each of them makes the passion the climax of their narrative and devote an extraordinary amount of attention to this singular event. So, too, has Christian piety, art and theology throughout the centuries probed the meaning of the passion.

Contemporary scholarship is no exception. The unspeakable horror of the holocaust and the devastation of the Second World War gave new impetus to studies of the passion. Those who encouraged anti-Semitism and paved the way for genocide often appealed to Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus as a spurious justification for their evil. Too often other Christians were mute when the gospels were used for such a demonic purpose. It was time for Christian scholars to examine their consciences and to see to what extent their portrayals of Jews at the time of Jesus and their ways of interpreting the death of Jesus had contributed to this toxic atmosphere.

In the past half century there has been a remarkable and constructive reappraisal of the Jewish roots of Christianity by Christian and Jewish scholars alike, and this has had an impact as well on the study of the gospels and the passion narrative. Extraordinary archaeological discoveries have also helped us understand better the social, political and religious circumstances of Jesus' day. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and revered his religious heritage. Not all Jews were opposed to him and there could be no collective Jewish responsibility for his death. Much of the tension between Jesus and some of the Jewish leaders in the gospels reflect not only conflicts between Jesus and his contemporaries but later conflicts between the emerging Christian community and its Jewish counterpart at the time the gospels were being composed. These and other observations represent important gains in our understanding of history.

Modern biblical scholarship has also been attuned to the literary quality of the gospels themselves. These narratives draw on historical traditions but shape them in a manner designed to move the reader and trigger reflection. The evangelists naturally used the literary methods specific to their culture and time. The more we know about the literary structure and style of the gospels the better we are equipped to read them with deeper understanding.

The study of the four passion accounts in this book has taken a more literary and theological approach to the gospel texts. We have probed these passion stories not so much for what they can tell us about the precise historical circumstances of Jesus' passion but what the meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus might be in the light of Christian faith. The section on the history and archaeology of the passion obviously moves in a more historical fashion, while the segment on devotion to the passion gives some leads on the way different periods of Christianity have reflected on the death of Jesus.

For the reader who is not a specialist and yet wants to explore further some of these directions in their study of the passion, the Bibliography contains some useful leads.


1. The Historical Setting of the Passion

Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). Studies the function and meaning of this form of capital punishment in Roman law.

Frederick J. Murphy, The Religious World of Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991). A fine introduction to the Judaism of Jesus' day.

Donald Senior, Jesus: A Gospel Portrait (New York: Paulist, rev. ed., 1992). A study of the historical Jesus, including the circumstances of his death.

2. Archaeological studies

Dan Bahat, "Does the Holy Sepulcher Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?" Biblical Archaeology Review 12 (1986) 26-45. A good survey of this much debated question.

Gabriel Barkaky, "The Garden Tomb - Was Jesus Buried Here?" Biblical Archaeology Review 12 (1986) 40-57.

Jack Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1992). A fine presentation with copious illustrations.

Joseph Fitzmyer, "Crucifixion in Palestine, Qumran, and the New Testament," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978) 493-513.

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P. The Holy Land: An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (New York: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 1992). A guidebook and a good succinct summary of the archaeological facts about different sites.

Hershal Shanks, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography (New York: Random House, 1995). A beautifully illustrated summary of the archaeological evidence for each period of Jerusalem's history, including a chapter on Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

Robert L. Wilkin, The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). A historical and theological reflection on the phenomenon of Christian pilgrimage, particularly to the site of Jesus' death and burial.

John Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It: Archaeology as Evidence (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978). Especially good on the question of whether the Holy Sepulcher was the actual site of Jesus' death and burial.

3. On the Passion in the New Testament

Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Death of the Messiah (2 volumes; New York: Doubleday, 1994). A massive resource that studies the passion accounts from the Gethsemane scene to the burials. Although it is not intended as a major focus, the author also takes up many historical issues.

John T. Carroll and Joel B. Green, The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995). Views the passion as reflected in all of the New Testament writings from both historical and theological points of view.

Frank J. Matera, Passion Narratives and Gospel Theologies (New York: Paulist, 1986). A study of the passion narratives in the Synoptic Gospels.

Donald Senior, C.P., The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1985); The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984); The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989); The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991). Each of these four volumes studies the passion narrative in the context of that gospel, concentrating on the meaning of the passion.

Gerard S. Sloyan, The Crucifixion of Jesus: History, Myth, Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995). Studies the passion in the context of the Scriptures and as it has been interpreted in subsequent Christian history.


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Icon by Michael Moran, C.P.